Philly's most passionate sports fans are nuts about a team that doesn't yet exist.
"As of late, going to Flyers games is akin to watching a tennis match or golf," says 29-year-old Jamie Adams from Jersey. "There's no enthusiasm in the crowd. Watching soccer matches is something else. The nonstop singing and chanting and flag waving is the way it should be."
"Groups like the Sons of Ben," says Tom Dunmore, soccer blogger and member of Chicago's SOB-like Section 8, "can bring the brilliant atmosphere of a college sports rivalry to a game, rather than the expensive corporate snore-fest we increasingly see in professional sports."
Back in the Chester parking lot, half-frozen Steve Dietrich is asked to choose a side should (God forbid) the 214 Field Artillery and the SOB ever come to blows.
He hesitates for just a second.
"Well, the Sons of Ben does have Bryan James, but the 214 has giant rockets, so ... "
"Um, wow, this is an amazing day for us," says the aforementioned James wrapped up in an SOB scarf and sporting a natty pair of shades. "Let's behave well inside," he says. Booing breaks out. "And we'll break stuff later." There are cheers.
By the way, all that stuff you think you know about soccer fans all being hooligans? It's out-of-date nonsense. But the SOB are a unique part of a unique sporting culture.
I was in Los Angeles last summer, researching a story for a British soccer magazine about how America was apparently agog at the prospect of David Beckham playing in the States.
I was waiting in line for a hot dog inside the stadium shared by the MLS teams Chivas U.S.A. and Beckham's club, L.A. Galaxy. The guy in front of me was wearing a Dodgers hat and shirt. He said it was his first soccer game.
Suddenly a swarm of red-and-white-wearing hardcore Chivas fans waving flags, wearing crazy hats and goat or wrestling masks came swarming through the gates. They announced their arrival by bouncing up and down, roaring their heads off, blasting away on assorted musical instruments and tossing streamers in every direction. This was the legendary fan group Legion 1908 Kalifas. The effect was electric.
"What the fuck!" yelled the Dodgers fan, rigid with excitement. "Who the hell are they?"
|A game of two scarves: Dan Gorman (above) and Tom Roletter (next photo) show their support for soccer.|
That particular game ended on the field with Galaxy kicking Chivas' ass. But that's not the whole story. It also ended with the solid wedge of hardcore Chivas fans still going hell-for-leather crazy after 90-plus minutes of play and 15 minutes of halftime, still making the stadium ring with songs and chants and energy and color.
And on either side of this organized scarlet-and-white phalanx was a vast rabble of ponytailed BendItLikeBeckhamistas, all giving the Kalifas the finger and roaring, "Hey Chivas, you suck!"
The Kalifas aren't alone. Most Major League Soccer clubs have a vibrant, self-organized group of rowdy fans who take pride not only in the amount of noise they make, but in the wit and originality of its content.
There's New York's Empire Supporters Club and Raging Bull Nation; L.A. Galaxy's Galaxians and Riot Squad; Chicago's Section 8; Houston's Texian Army and El Batallon; D.C. United's Screaming Eagles and La Barra Brava; Portland, Ore.'s amazing DIY/punk Timbers Army (whose team plays in the level below MLS and whose fans sell hand-knit merchandise--how punk is that?); and Toronto's awe-inspiring South Side Jumpers, U Sector, Red Patch Boys, North End Elite, Tribal Rhythm Nation and Ultras 114.
When it opened for business in 1996, MLS was hailed as the Zion of the exiled American stars who’d long been forced to toil in distant lands. After that, washed-up greats arrived to great acclaim, only to disappoint fans with underwhelming performances and a distinct lack of interest. But surge of young American talent has given the league a much needed, albeit temporary, shot in the arm.